Those Short Summer Breaks

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I have a princess visiting over this and next week. She’s everything one imagines of royalty: beautiful, poised, self-confident, someone you’re proud to say you know and be seen with. Of course, as is also true of royalty, she can be high maintenance. She prefers to be served her favorite food on her schedule. She counts on her wardrobe clean and at her disposal. She enjoys books read to her, arbitrary trips to her favorite stores, mani-pedis and at least one person with or near her at all times.

Those who know me have already guessed I’m talking about my six-year-old granddaughter, Princess Caitlin. There’s a three-week gap between camp and first grade. Her mom, the original princess and my oldest daughter, Jill, has taken off the third week. She’s excited to get her pix1354681652941daughter new supplies and wardrobe for the start of school, 12 years that neither of them realize zip by in such a distorted span of time it defies any normal understanding we have of days and years.

After all, it was only a few years ago we were preparing Caitlin’s mom and aunt for grammar school, then high school and finally college. And now they’re out in the world doing remarkable things without holding our hand or calling us for permission or even advice. So when Jill asked the family if anyone might be available to watch Caitlin during the two weeks between camp and her week off, I didn’t hesitate to ask for every one of those days.

Caitlin grows more independent by the minute. She prefers Justice, a clothing story, over toy stores, Buffalo Wild Wings over Chuck E. Cheese. She’ll ask for Nutella and crackers too close to dinner time. She has known every word of Olivia Helps with Christmas for at least three years, but she asks me to read it to her all the time. And if I step out of the room for more than a few minutes, a sing-song, “Grandma where are you? Are you coming back?” is routine.

Sure we’re spoiling her. But she’s a loving, caring, kind little person who somehow also knows this time together is special and doesn’t expect everyday life to be as accommodating. At the same time, her grandfather and I know all too well that being able to make this remarkable little girl content so easily is a finite ability. Happiness will be more complicated, her needs something only she can find a way to achieve.

Thankfully, Jill agreed to let us revel selfishly in the little time we have left to soak in all that is Caitlin, fighting over our own time to spend with her. Soon enough we’ll revisit paddy cake paddy cake and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star with our new grandson while Caitlin follows her mom and aunt out into the bigger world where greatness awaits her, too.

Eventually We All Win

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Last weekend Xavier and his friend drove to Cooperstown to watch inductions into the 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame and see his oldest grandson play ball on the professionally manicured fields. I bet every male there fantasizes belting one over the fence. Xavier and his buddy had the time of their lifes.

For a long time our worlds were easier when we were apart. Life was complicated. We had kids, jobs, bills, college to save for, family, unending disagreements and deafening arguments not to mention the daily challenges of raising two daughters eight-years apart and galaxies away from understanding each other. What worked predictably was the relationship between dad and daughters.

I’d finally started accepting that the pledge, “Eventually that will change” is as over-promised and unrealistic as, “The check is in the mail.” Then last weekend happened. I spent day after unexpected and unplanned day with my granddaughter, as herself and as stand-in to her mom, my oldest, and her aunt—my 22-year-old “baby.”

Some might say this isn’t unusual, but nothing could be further from the truth. First, Caitlin and I hand sewed a pillow! Next, a phone call resulted in her aunt joining us to shop at Wal-Mart. We bought an entire sewing kit, and Jackie only smiled. When we split up to divide and conquer at the mass marketer, I grabbed two bags of our favorite Neutrogena face wipes and so did Jackie. We had lunch at Corner Bakery. Traffic was terrible, but no one evoked even the smallest groan nor did a single eyeball roll. In fact, we chatted right through the bumper-to-bumper finale.

The next day Cait was summoned home by Daughter #1. While driving her there, Jackie called me asking if she and her boyfriend could come over for dinner even though they knew it was only me at home. After we ate, he went downstairs to watch some “guy” show, while Jackie and I sat in the living room watching reality shows, chatting and even sitting wordless and comfortable. I can’t recall a single cell-phone interruption.

The next morning Jill called and asked if I’d look at documents she’d just emailed to me. She wanted my opinion and any minor suggestions, and she called before I was done, so anxious she was for the input.

Later that day, Jackie’s boyfriend called to ask if they could come over again. They’d bring the dinner and their laundry (I’d have made an 8-course meal and washed every article of their clothing with an ear-to-ear grin). After we survived the discomfort of the final episode of “The Bachelorette,” they headed downstairs to watch TV.

“C’mon down, mom,” Jackie said. “Leave the dishes. We’ll do them.”

“No, it’s okay. You two have some time alone together,” I said.

“No, mom. You better come downstairs. Drew, tell her she better come downstairs.”

I threw a load in the wash, another in the dryer, folded the warm clothes quickly, and made my way downstairs, where they included me in the conversation.

Yes, dads, daughters and even granddaughters have a remarkable connection. I once read that the love of a daughter is the safest kind of love a man can feel, thus it is a big deal for a man to be the parent of a girl. And what immeasurable value it is for daughters to know they will forever possess unconditional love with one man they’ve loved from the first moment they can recall.

Of course daughters love their moms, too. But daughter and mom share the love of a husband and father and that can be a complicated tango to master over a lifetime. It’s a dance with abrupt pauses and unusual rhythms, and we inadvertently tread on each other’s feet as we work to master it. Often Husband and Mom struggle to manage the missteps as much as Dad and Daughter. Until we realize we must learn and depend on muscle memory, those slip-ups can pile up and be more toxic than anticipated, even among family choreographed from love.

Xavier, his friend, son and grandkids may have had a major bucket list moment last weekend, and I couldn’t be happier for them. But I wouldn’t trade it for the Grand Slam weekend I had enjoying all the riches that only daughters can offer.

The G-Word

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Hundreds of emotions rushed through me when my daughter announced she was pregnant with her first child. Her health, age, future, childbirth, anything a mom can fret about simmered within me throughout her pregnancy. The biggest surprise, though, was the difficult time I was having accepting the reality that I was old enough for grandparenthood.

If that doesn’t prove “youth” is relative, I don’t know what does. As if I couldn’t have passed for a grandmother without my daughters having children. I’d already had practice. My stepson had three handsome kids of his own who I adore. I spent a great deal of time with the oldest when he was young, and it remains among my greatest experiences. Gus is the first little person I didn’t give birth to who enjoyed being with me as much as I loved being with him. Nonetheless, he’s a reminder my husband is older than me, and another Grandma rightfully ranks first in all their big hearts. Bottom line: I avoided the “I’m-a-grandma-now” reality check.

Daughter #2, Niece, Daughter #1, aka Mom, and Cait

Like the teenager who knows everything, I was an early-in-my-50’s mom who still had much to learn but didn’t think so when daughter #1 announced her daughter was due in September, 2007. I was abuzz with busy―baby showers, learning the latest in all things baby, and calling friends, most of who held their Grandma comments to themselves, although I could see the smirk in their eyes.

My daughter allowed me to be with her when Caitlin arrived. I was overwhelmed remembering all the love and happiness greeting my oldest when she was born. My parents and I spent years staring at her, awake or asleep. My youngest daughter, Caitlin’s new aunt, joined us in the birthing room soon afterwards, and I remembered how excited my mom and dad were at her arrival, especially my dad who’d finally slowed down enough to revel in all things infant and toddler. Every mispronounced word worthy of a story, told repeatedly. Then in came my niece, and I relived the joy my grandmother, mom, dad, sister and I felt when she made her debut―the first girl born near enough to hover over since my birth.

I held Caitlin close for a few minutes, introducing her to these women whose blood she shares. I told her about the long line of strong women preceding her, a tribute to those who instilled a love so powerful that those remaining were present now. The notion of missing even the first few moments of this new life unthinkable to each of us who instantly became part of her story through no choice of her own.

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Grandma and Cait

What an aha moment for this mom. Just when you think you’ve experienced all the great stuff in life―job promotions, marriage, rock star kids, beautiful homes, and even the significance of surviving the big 5-0―it’s not a leap to believe any big, magical milestone moments might be behind you.

Silly, inexperienced me. It took a year before Cait could say “Gamma.” Now that she’s getting ready for 1st grade, she can pronounce, spell and read Grandma as her mother, aunt and great-aunt did before her. And, I learned that just when I thought there were no longer any more big life lessons left,  being a grandmother is perhaps the most definitive life-affirming experience.

Caitlin and now her little brother multiple infinitely the profound love I felt when I gave birth to their mom. I don’t think either my very tired and hard-working daughter and equally exhausted niece can process the concept of so much love. Nor can my youngest who will be a terrific mother after she ventures down the many paths still before her. They have plenty of time. But this mom, who’s more motivated than ever to stay healthy to experience her baby’s babies, too, alternately laughs and cries at that naïve 50-something woman who feared the thought of being called Grandma.

It’s only when we stop learning new things every day that we genuinely have something to fear.

The Benefits of Children Duplicating

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Recently I asked my oldest daughter if her oldest child, 6-yr-old Caitlin, could stay over one more night. I adore Cait like I love her mother. She said “Yes,” and I continued, making sure she didn’t mind her dad and I consistently stealing her away. They have a 3-month-old son now, and she said, “No, we don’t mind at all. But I hope one day you’ll do the same with Patrick.” The “Of course,” was out before she finished the sentence. I don’t get to see much of Jill now, or at least not enough of her. It dawned on me as we spoke how much I appreciate her reproducing since she is so busy with her own life now. Aha—the very core of why grandchildren are so wonderful: duplicating so grandparents can still hold on to our kids! So I thanked Jill for that, and, naturally, she laughed, reassured I am becoming a crazy old woman 🙂 Interestingly, her daughter looks, acts and feels just like Jill’s younger sister and our only other daughter, Jackie. It’s irony at it’s peak. They’re eight-years apart, and she thought a baby sister was great for Jackie’s first maybe three weeks. Jill then caught on we all wouldn’t be spending the future staring solely at her anymore. Not until they became adults have they learned to love and appreciate each other. I. Am. So. Relived! Cait sees the likeness with her aunt as well. When Cait was three and four she’d nab pictures we have around our house of Jackie, thinking they are her. Not that we don’t have dozens of her everywhere, too. I’d come home and hear them arguing over them, and the fact that “Pox,” (Papa X, my husband’s ‘grandpa name’ as translated by Cait), is Jackie’s dad and Cait’s grandfather. Cait wasn’t going to share him any more than Jackie. Two stubborn girls, aunt and niece, mirroring each other to such an incredible degree. Incredulous, even scary. Blood is thick. The capacity to hold people together as family  astounds me. I’ve written before about my family of origin all being gone, so watching future generations fascinates and holds so much meaning to me. Not only is Cait like Jackie. But Jackie has so many of my mom’s characteristics, I’ve noticed. How I wish my daughters remembered my parents. Their love for those two girls underscore their infinite love for me. They taught me more about love in their way-too-early passing than I would’ve learned in a long lifetime with them. That fact gives me no solace. But I can’t dwell. I hear my mom’s “knock it off” from wherever she is. Yep, blood is thick and omniscient.

My Heart Will Be Your Shelter

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On Wednesday and Thursday I had the all too rare opportunity to care for my new grandson, Patrick Xavier. As I sat in my daughter’s apartment, I recognized for the first time she’s creating a home like the one in which she grew up. Books everywhere. Family pictures lining the hallway and on other horizontal surfaces. Candles and “stuff” that obviously have meaning for my 6-yr. old granddaughter as well as my son-in-law and daughter.

It felt beyond validating. I love every minute she lets me into her world. I felt so comfortable sitting there, and looking around I realize part of that is because her idea of home has only changed location.

With a kindergartner and 3-month old, the apartment has its own heartbeat―so full of life and love. Tough to keep neat with both parents’ working so I am more than thrilled to be able to help a little, folding laundry, emptying the dishwasher and anything else I can find.

While doing so, I noticed a sign her husband made for their wedding. They did a lot of DIY stuff, and it all held special meaning, but I hadn’t noticed this before.

It read: “My heart will be your shelter.”

It touches me to my core. What a beautiful arrangement of words creating such a loving, thoughtful promise to my daughter. And in so doing, it comforts me, too. I know he is a genuinely kind man. But I don’t know many men who would take the time to create it and then put it into writing for all the wedding attendees to see.

I’m so proud and so happy for my daughter. She’s in the tornado season of her life, thus she can’t yet see how blessed she is―not that she’s complaining. She’s doing a terrific job; she’s simply tired. I think back on all I did while raising two daughters, and I’m amazed at the energy it took. Raising a family is not for the older crowd or the weak of heart.

But sharing some of those moments, seeing some of her past worthy enough to be replicated, and watching what a wonderful mother she is are priceless gifts. Thank you, honey, for sharing them. Happy Mother’s Day. You’re doing a wonderful job, and I hope I’m around when you have the time and breathing space to look back and know for yourself.

I have a younger daughter, too. Her future is no less limitless; they are both rock stars, and each make my life complete. You’ll hear more about her on this blog, too. But this seems most appropriate for Mother’s Day.

And by the way, although I never thought of putting it on a sign, my heart will always be their shelters, too.